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Washington Blade: Va. lawmakers highlight support of pro-LGBT bills Print


Created: Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Mathew Shurka was 16 when his father encouraged him to undergo so-called "conversion therapy."

Shurka told reporters during a press conference near the Virginia State Capitol on Tuesday that he saw "conversion" therapists in the commonwealth, New Jersey, California and his state of New York over the span of five years. Some of the treatments he said they prescribed to him included segregation from his mother and sisters as a way to experience "healthy male bonding," masturbating to heterosexual pornography and using Viagra as a way to overcome the anxiety attacks he said he experienced while having sex with women.

"I don't have erectile dysfunction," said Shurka. "I was not interested in women. I knew what my desire was."

Shurka spoke in support of a bill that state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) introduced last month that would ban "conversion therapy" to minors in the commonwealth.

State Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) introduced an identical measure on Jan. 12.

"There is no on-off switch to sexual orientation," Hope said during the press conference that took place inside the General Assembly Building in downtown Richmond. "This bill is based on science."

Shurka's mother, Jane Shurka, and one of his sisters, Melonie Shurka, also spoke alongside Alliance for Progressive Values Deputy Director Apryl Prentiss who said she also underwent "conversion therapy."

"Because of 'conversion therapy,' he was not allowed to be himself," said Jane Shurka, referring to her son. "Being himself is not the right thing to do according to conversion therapy."

New Jersey, California and D.C. currently ban "conversion therapy" to minors.

Equality Illinois on Tuesday launched an initiative in support of a measure that would prohibit the controversial practice. A Chinese court last month ruled a clinic must compensate a man who underwent electric shock therapy as a way to "cure" his homosexuality.

A bill seeking to ban "conversion therapy" to minors that Hope introduced last year died in the Virginia House of Delegates.

"Virginia children and families have a right to expect that a therapist practicing under a license from the state will not put them at risk of severe harm; including depression, substance abuse and suicide," said Prentiss.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, on Tuesday criticized Hope's bill.

"Proponents of legislation prohibiting counseling for kids with gender confusion have to answer the question why they believe it is okay to allow a child to change their behavior or body to match their feelings but it is bigoted to consider helping someone change their behavior or feelings to match their body," said Cobb in a statement. "Virginia law is clear that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children, a right this legislation clearly violates."

Lawmakers are expected to consider the two bills in the coming weeks.

Repealing marriage amendment, banning discrimination on agenda

Lawmakers and advocates on Tuesday also gathered in Richmond to highlight their support of a number of other pro-LGBT bills that are currently before state lawmakers.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and state Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) during an Equality Virginia press conference inside the General Assembly Building spoke in support of their respective measures that would seek a repeal of the commonwealth's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Ebbin also highlighted his measure that would change gender-specific references in Virginia's marriage laws and regulations to "spouse."

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state since last October.

"It does no harm to make these changes," said Ebbin. "We must make them so that accountants and attorneys when they are reading the code and advising their clients are clear that same gender couples have the same rights and responsibilities as other couples."

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) and Ebbin spoke in support of his bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against public employees in state and local governments and housing.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week failed to advance state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington County)'s bill that would have required state police to collect and report data on anti-LGBT hate crimes. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee on Monday killed measure that state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County) introduced that would have banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

"This is especially regrettable because discrimination in housing is real and it occurs every single day," said the Loudoun County Democrat.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) has introduced a second-parent adoption bill that has been assigned to thee Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.

The Senate General Laws Committee on Jan. 26 is scheduled to debate the anti-discrimination bill and Ebbin's measure that would revise the commonwealth's marriage laws and regulations to reflect the ability of same-sex couples to legally tie the knot.

"There's a lot more work to be done before LGBT Virginians are treated equally," said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish. "It's simple. Either you're for discrimination or you're against it."

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Jan. 14 during his State of the Commonwealth speech highlighted efforts to formally repeal Virginia's marriage amendment and ban anti-LGBT discrimination against employees in state and local governments and in housing.

The governor last week said he would veto state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County)'s bill that would allow state licensed or accredited business owners to deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs. Equality Virginia on Tuesday submitted a petition with more than 160,000 signatures that urges lawmakers to oppose the so-called "conscience clause" measure.

"He has set the foundation to force the equivalent of a religious test on practicing a profession in Virginia," Marshall told the Washington Blade last week in response to McAuliffe's veto threat. "McAuliffe's iron-fisted intolerance is a police state tactic."

Cobb on Tuesday criticized lawmakers over what she described as "their obsession with social issues."

"There is nothing here that will attract small businesses, the heart and soul of a growing economy, or encourage businesses that are seeking a fair tax or regulatory environment to come to Virginia," said Cobb. "No one who truly wants to grow Virginia's economy can take these proposals seriously."